By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT-FLE
The following taboo topic article might come as a surprise for some, but I assure you, dogs who kill other dogs within the same household is common. The reason you most likely have never heard of this phenomena is that people rarely talk about the situation. Today, I want to shed some light on the problem.
Second Dog Introduction
When you decide to get a second dog, normally meetings and introduction processes take place before the second dog becomes a fulltime family member. The most common situation for a multiple dog household is dog two (Fido) is younger than dog one (Rex).
When Fido moves in, all is well and a friendship might start to blossom. Both dogs enjoy each other and seem to do everything together. In other cases, Rex and Fido tolerate each other; over time, tolerance turns to annoyance. Dogs will attack other dogs when the oldest becomes vulnerable.
Dog Aggression vs. Dog Attack
There is a big difference between dog aggression and dog attacks. The former is a very noisy and fasts pace action exchange where two individuals try to settle a conflict. The argument can last weeks before it's finally settled. The latter, on the other hand, is silent and somewhat stationary during the exchange. Fido holds Rex till Rex no longer moves. A dog attack serves to kill the individual. It's a predatory response. In some situations, aggression can turn deadly, but in most cases, conflicts never escalate.
Multiple Dog Household Deaths
Pet caregivers will consult when dogs display aggression, especially when an age difference triggers aggressive behaviours. People don't consult for dog attacks because there is rarely any sign of aggression beforehand. When I see aggression cases, people leave with behaviour modification and management exercises to address the problem. Behaviour and training protocols are designed to facilitate peaceful living arrangements.
When a dog has killed another dog, clients consult for aggression because they fear their other pets, or themselves, are at risk. People seek behaviour evaluations to help them determine what happened, and to understand why dogs would do this after five years of friendly cohabitation. Often times there are no behaviour modification or training plans involved because the situation will never present itself again.
Younger dogs like Fido will often kill older, more vulnerable dogs like Rex. From a canine point of view, the kill behaviour is normal. Dogs are opportunistic predators who exploit vulnerabilities. When dogs see injured, sick, juvenile, or otherwise compromised individuals, their predatory brain can tell them to kill. It's not a cognitive process; it's an instinctive behaviour. Humans have tried to breed this out of dogs; unfortunately, most individuals retain their genetic makeup, and when the stars align, dogs die.
Death by Dog
So far, in my career, I’ve evaluated over two dozen dogs for the death of an older dog within the same household. Clients present the case as a silent, unexpected attack which lasted only a few seconds. People are shocked about the situation and think Fido just turned into Cujo. Fido rarely is a monster; he is simply a dog. The proof is in the pudding: households with more than two dogs lived through the attack, and Fido will most likely never display aggression towards the other canines.
Most often, the attack occurs when people are in another room or out on a short errand. People will say there was no sound from the attacker. When there is noise, the cries come from Rex; the dog being attacked. The high pitch yelps serve to tell the attacker I am in pain, let me go! A true attack never lasts long; it’s normally over within a few seconds. People never saw it come, or more often than not, people simply could not recognize the subtle signs. Dog language is complex.
Take Home Message
Please do not feel guilty about the death of a dog within your household; you didn’t know and couldn’t have prevented the situation. If you do have an injured or compromised dog, make sure you manage the situation and never leave the dogs alone. Separate them when you leave or are in another room.
I recommend you take a dog language class and invite your friends with multiple dog households to join you. Make your experience known, for together we can educate pet caregivers. Talk about the situation with someone or comment below to share your experience and prevent tragic deaths.
I took a counselling class from the veterinary association of Quebec back in 2006 to help clients who were struggling with tragic deaths. If you recently lost a pet and need counselling, please drop me a line. I know how hard it is to lose a furry friend under such tragic events. I also know first hand how difficult it can be when your friends or family are not animal people.
P.S. Please read the comment section below, you will find you are not alone. Plus, I answer in the comments as I cannot answer every request or comment on unfamiliar cases.